Since the 1960’s a drastic decrease in bee populations around the world has been reported (Williams, 1982) intensifying in the last decade (Bacandritsos et al, 2010, Ho and Cummins, 2007, Fitzpatrick et al, 2007). Recent research has linked this phenomenon, more specifically, to different factors such as virus, parasites, fungus, use of toxic substances to control pests and weeds (Bacandritsos et al, 2010, Cox-Foster et al 2007) and lately, with GMO’s (Amos, 2008, Ho and Cummins, 2007) in what is known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Opinions are divided and some scientists say that there is no problem of pollinators at all, arguing that few important crops depend on pollinator services or are grown at small scale in diversified agro-ecosystems supporting healthy pollinator communities (Ghazoul, 2005). This is in straight contradiction to the global pollinator-related production estimates, “Out of some 100 crop species which provide 90% of food worldwide, 71 of these are bee-pollinated. The production value of one ton of pollinator-dependent crop is approximately five times higher than one of those crop categories that do not depend on insects” (UNEP, 2010).
The effect of all these disease related problems has been enhanced by the rapid deterioration of natural habitats and the consequently loss of biodiversity associated to the sources of food for these noble group of insects (Goulson et al, 2006, Chiron and Hatenberger, 2008, FAO, 2008a). Imagine for a moment your reaction if you were told at your local supermarket that there are no more apples or peaches available because bees have disappeared?
Fortunately, different working groups are looking at this problem, such as the NAPPC (North American Pollinator Protection Campaign), the European group COLOSS (Colony Loss Disorder) and the International Initiative for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Pollinators, from the CBD (Convention on Biological Diversity) in partnership with FAO amongst others. The CBD-FAO partnership is proposing different strategies to face this problem that can be perfectly integrated into an EIA: a) assessing the state of pollinators with methodologies that have been effectively implemented with different crops in several parts of the world (FAO, 2008a, 2008b). b) An economic evaluation of pollination services at both levels, local and national (FAO, 2008a, 2009), c) integration of local knowledge, d) promotion of pollinator-friendly practices as mitigation measures, e) capacity building in conservation and management of pollination services as follow up plans, (mostly through education), and finally, f) mainstreaming conservation and pollination services (FAO, 2008a) to better define policies and regulations towards an improvement of the current situation with pollinators. A strong public involvement should be certainly added.
These little creatures are very good indicators of the state of the environment, and with their disappearance, they are sending a clear message which becomes more urgent with the recent disappearance of more than one million North American bats (Puechmaille et al, 2010, Reichard and Kunz, 2009) -key partners of agricultural health-.We can take action following this warning so it does not pass unheard, or should we wait until the problem knocks on our door?
Amos, B. 2008. Death of the bees. Genetically modified crops and the decline of bee colonies in North America. Online publication, Global research. http://www.globalresearch.ca
Bacandritsos, N. et al, 2010. Sudden deaths and colony population decline in Greek honey bee colonies. Journal of Invertebrate Pathology 105: 335-340
Chiron, J. and Hattenberger, A. 2008. Mortalités, effondrements et affaiblissements des colonies d’abeilles. Entomology Papers from Other Sources. Paper 3. http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/entomologyother/3
Cox-Foster et al, 2007. A metagenomic survey of microbes in honey bee colony collapse disorder, Science 318: 283-287
FAO, 2008a. Rapid assessment of pollinator’s status. A contribution to the international initiative for the conservation and sustainable use of pollinators, p. 64 Rome.
FAO 2008b. Tools for conservation and use of pollination services. Initial survey of good pollination practices, p. 73. Rome.
FAO, 2009. Guidelines for the economic valuation of pollination services at a national scale, p. 20. Rome
Fitzpatric, U. et al, 2007. Rarity and decline in bumblebees – A test of causes and correlates in the Irish fauna. Biological Conservation 136: 185-194
Ghazoul, J. 2005. Buzziness as usual? Questioning the global pollination crisis. Trends in Ecology and Evolution. 20 (7): 367-373.
Goulson, D. et al, 2006. The decline and conservation of bumblebees. School of Biological & Environmental Sciences, University of Stirling, UK.
Ho, M. and Cummins, J. 2007. The mystery of disappearing honey bees. Online publication, Institute of Science in Society ISIS. United Kingdom. http://www.i-sis.org.uk/MysteryOfDisappearingHoneybees.php
Puechmaille, S. et al. 2010. White-nose syndrome fungus (Geomyces destructans) in bat, France. Emerging Infectious diseases. 16 (2): 290-293.
Reichard, J. and Kunz, T. 2009. White-nose syndrome inflicts lasting injuries to the wings of little brown myotis (Myotis lucifagus). Acta Chiropterologica, 11(2): 457-464.
UNEP 2010. UNEP Emerging Issues: Global Honey Bee Colony Disorder and Other Threats to Insect Pollinators. p.16 Kenya.